Safety first: No Falls Week

The No Falls Foundation, the first and only UK-based charity for the work at height sector, is launching the first ever ‘No Falls Week’, a powerful campaign dedicated to promoting safe working at height.

Henchman Ladder

Taking place from, the 13th – 17th of May 2024, No Falls Week’s mission is simple yet crucial; to raise awareness about the importance of safe working at height, prevent falls and ensure everyone that works at height comes down safely. It is estimated over 1 million businesses, and 10 million workers, carry out work involving some form of working at height every year1. No Falls Week will provide the opportunity for organisations across all sectors to place a focus on work at height safety.

Falls from height are consistently the leading cause of workplace fatalities in the UK, with 40 people losing their lives at work due to a fall from height in 2022-20232. Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that falls from height were responsible for a third of all workplace deaths last year, up from a quarter the year before (RIDDOR).

As awful as the fatality statistics are, there are an even greater number of non-fatal injuries resulting from a fall from height, with over 5,000 people in Great Britain having been reported injured at work in 2022/234. However, the No Falls Foundation know there is substantial underreporting of non-fatal falls from height for all workers, particularly the self-employed, who were found to report just 12% of workplace incidents. According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the HSE estimates the number of workplace falls from height over the last 10 years may be up to 425,000.

Along with the lives, families and businesses affected by these accidents, up to 992,000 working days were lost through non-fatal falls from height in Great Britain in 2022/23 alone. Not only that, the total cost of falls from height last year was estimated to be over £847 million, made up of costs to the employer and the individual, government tax losses and benefit payments (HSE Costs to Britain Model).

Hannah Williams, Charity Manager at the No Falls Foundation, said: “Everyone who needs to work at height should be able to work safely and return home unharmed at the end of every shift. Unlike most other types of workplace injuries, the consequences of a fall from height are usually life-changing for the person involved, with many unlikely to return to their previous occupation, as well as having long-term consequences for employers, colleagues and families. Whether you work in construction, manufacturing, agriculture or any other sector, No Falls Week is an opportunity for everyone to shine a spotlight onto the mental, physical, and societal consequences of working at height accidents.”

For No Falls Week there a host of toolkits and resources available for employers, which include hosting toolbox talks, workshops or safety demonstrations, distributing informational materials, and engaging in social media campaigns.

Expert Advice

Falling from a height, particularly from ladders, accounts for 8% of non-fatal injuries in the workplace in the UK, and the horticultural industry is not immune to this hazard. Improperly stabilised ladders and slipping from a rung are the leading causes of ladder-related injuries. It is therefore imperative to ensure that employees receive adequate training on ladder safety procedures and have access to sturdy equipment that is in optimal condition.

We have asked two experts to share their advice for working safely from a height in the horticultural industry.

Owen Simpson, Managing Director of Henchman:

  • Preparation is key: “When working at heights, it is crucial to be physically capable and well-versed in ladder safety procedures. For employers, it is imperative to ensure that employees receive adequate training before embarking on tasks at height. If working outdoors, consider environmental factors such as rain, wind, or damp conditions to mitigate fall risks. Employees should avoid using ladders if they have experienced recent injuries and whenever possible, having a second person present during tasks can act as an extra pair of eyes to identify potential hazards. Performing regular ladder inspections is a must. Every user should ensure the ladder is in optimal condition before stepping foot on it, checking for damage, wear and tear. A full ladder inspection checklist can be found on Henchman’s blog.”
  • Choosing the right ladder for the task: “When it comes to choosing the right ladder for the job, it’s crucial to consider factors such as the type of work, terrain, and duration of the task. In certain settings, traditional ladders may not be suitable for accessing hard-to-reach places due to uneven terrain such as slopes, ditches, and steps. Therefore, using a ladder engineered with durability and stability is essential”. Simpson explained that tripod ladders are effective for uneven terrain as they feature three independently adjustable legs that can keep the ladder level on uneven ground – better still, a guardrail at the top would allow for safe hands-free work. When choosing a tripod ladder, ensure the feet provide stability by covering a large surface area to distribute weight evenly, preventing sinking and minimising slippage during wet conditions.
  • Using the ladder safely: “Whist setting up the tripod ladder, make sure it is level by adjusting the legs accordingly. Gauge this by seeing if the chain is level from the side. When stepping onto a ladder, it’s crucial to lean into it for stability and avoid leaning back and ensure that the ladder’s height is appropriate for the task to prevent overreaching or crouching. Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder at one time, and mount and dismount the ladder facing the rungs whilst leaning in. Placing ladders on movable objects, such as pallets, tables, or vehicles, should be avoided at all costs, as stability is compromised. Users should also make sure to adhere to weight restrictions specified on the ladder and extending or moving ladders should only be done when the ladder is vacant. Lastly, never work within six metres of any overhead power line unless it is inactive or protected with insulation. By promoting safe working practices and educating employees on ladder safety procedures, organisations in the horticultural industry can mitigate fall risks and ensure that their employees stay safe while working at height.”

Annette Pursey DipNEBOSH, Health and Safety Advisor and Horticulturist:

“All of the above of course applies to self-employed gardeners too, but clients may not be as focused on your safety and health as an employer, who has statutory duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and The Work at Height Regulations 2005.

“For your own safety, and for anyone else who may be affected by your activities, you will first need to assess the risks associated with the working from height task. Working height from the ground; ease of access; weather conditions; duration of the task; hazards such as plant material with thorns that may cause you to move suddenly will all need to be considered, along with the suitability of the equipment to be used. If the client is providing a ladder or work platform, is it in a safe condition? Is it appropriate for the job and has it been properly maintained?

“To control and minimise the risk of a fall the first step is to consider whether working from height can be avoided altogether. The use of a long reach pole hedge trimmer or pruner can eliminate the use of ladders and stepladders. Alternatively, if working at height is still required, substituting a long ladder for a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) and safety harness is a safer option. If your assessment of the task puts you at an unacceptable risk of falling from height, and you cannot reduce the risk to its lowest practicable level, in the nicest possible way, just say “No”. Better to lose a client than suffer an injury that could prevent you from working altogether.”